Paleohydrology of China Lake basin and the context of early human occupation in the northwestern Mojave Desert, USA

TitlePaleohydrology of China Lake basin and the context of early human occupation in the northwestern Mojave Desert, USA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsRosenthal, JS, Meyer, J, Palacios-Fest, MR, D. Young, C, Ugan, A, Byrd, BF, Gobalet, K, Giacomo, J
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Pagination112 - 139
Date PublishedJan-07-2017

Considerable prior research has focused on the interconnected pluvial basins of Owens Lake and Searles Lake, resulting in a long record of paleohydrological change in the lower Owens River system. However, the published record is poorly resolved or contradictory for the period encompassing the terminal Pleistocene (22,000 to 11,600 cal BP) and early Holocene (11,600-8200 cal BP). This has resulted in conflicting interpretations about the timing of lacustrine high stands within the intermediate basin of China Lake, which harbors one of the most extensive records of early human occupation in the western Great Basin and California. Here, we report a broad range of radiocarbon-dated paleoenvironmental evidence, including lacustrine deposits and shoreline features, tufa outcrops, and mollusk, ostracode, and fish bone assemblages, as well as spring and other groundwater-related deposits (a.k.a. "black mats") from throughout China Lake basin, its outlet, and inflow drainages. Based on 98 radiocarbon dates, we develop independent evidence for five significant lake-level oscillations between 18,000 and 13,000 cal BP, and document the persistence of groundwater-fed wetlands from the beginning of the Younger Dryas through the early Holocene (12,900-8200 cal BP); including the transition from ground-water fed lake to freshwater marsh between about 13,000 and 12,600 cal BP. Results of this study support and refine existing evidence that shows rapid, high-amplitude oscillations in the water balance of the Owens River system during the terminal Pleistocene, and suggest widespread human use of China Lake basin began during the Younger Dryas.